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WEST LAFAYETTE -- Danny Hope knows exactly what to do when it’s time to implement Purdue’s three quarterback rotation in the season opener against Eastern Kentucky, and every other game:
Put the pressure on offensive coordinator Gary Nord.
“I’ll ask Coach Nord if he’s ready,” Hope says with a smile when asked about how the Boilers will decide when to play each quarterback. “He has a plan. He makes the call on that. If I don’t like what I hear, I have a veto.”
Figure Nord will be ready and Hope will limit the vetoes. The coaches have planned for this opportunity since last winter, when quarterback Robert Marve was granted a sixth (and what you assume is a final) college season and when it became apparent quarterback Rob Henry was fully recovered from last summer’s blown knee (he’s returned as one of the Boilers’ fastest players).
Rotating three quarterbacks, as Purdue plans to do with Caleb TerBush, Marve and Henry, is an approach seldom seen in football circles. First, most teams don’t have two starting-caliber quarterbacks, let alone three. Second, as former Boiler coach Joe Tiller once said, if you have two quarterbacks, it usually means you have no quarterbacks.
For Hope, who’s seen his share of quarterback injuries over the last three seasons, three is better than one.
TerBush is the returning starter even though he began last season as the third string quarterback (injuries knocked out or limited Marve and Henry). He’s a model of efficiency and accuracy. He didn’t throw an interception in his last 4 ½ games and improved as his experience and confidence grew.
Marve is a game-breaker who can hurt defenses with his arms and legs. Henry is so athletic and versatile he will likely play quarterback, running back and receiver this season, although he insists -- and Hope backs him -- that he’s first and foremost a quarterback.
Henry did balk when asked about playing defensive back, although he joked even that could be up for negotiation if it means more playing time.
“I don’t see any minuses with it,” Hope says of the rotation. “The pluses are we have more than one quarterback ready to play. We can put in a master plan to exploit the defense and put some of our best players on the field. If Rob is the No. 3 quarterback, he’s too good not to be on the field somewhere.
“No one gets nervous when someone new gets in the huddle. All those guys will contribute.”
The rotation could change depending on the opponent, the defense and who has the hot hand that particular game. All three quarterbacks say they can make it work. They say they like each other, which makes it easier, but most of all, they want to win.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge,” TerBush says. “It’s a system Coach Hope wants to pick up on. He’s the coach. What he says goes. We have to stick to it and believe in him that he’s going to put us in the best position to win.
“We’re all friends. We’re the brotherhood. With us quarterbacks all wearing green (to signify they aren’t to be hit in practice), we have this Green Gang vibe going on. It’s fun playing with these guys. I’m looking forward to playing my last season with them and ending with a bang.”
Added Hope: “I like how they’ve embraced the stage and how it’s set. Each one has been a starter and had it taken away. Coach Nord rotates them. We tell the players all the time, the more you care about the team, the better player you are. If you want to see guys who want to win and want to give, look at the quarterback spot.”
As far as who will start, Hope said it’s a no-brainer. TerBush started every game last year, maintained that position in the spring and is set to start the season opener. Hope said because the quarterbacks won’t be hit during preseason camp, the only way the depth chart would change would be based on game performance.
“If one is playing better in a game, there could be a change on the depth chart. If it happens, it would happen for a good reason. I don’t anticipate it affecting the personality of our team. It’s like any other position on the team.”
Could this quarterback depth lead to a return to Purdue’s pass-happy days of old?
Not necessarily, Hope said. Last year’s Boilers rushed for 2,361 yards and passed for 2,538. They ran for 22 touchdowns, threw for 17. Hope said he likes balance, although he likes winning more, and with a Big Ten-leading 19 returning starters from a bowl-winning squad, victories figure to come often.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to win,” he says. “It’s good to be in position to run, and it’s nice that if you want to throw, you believe you can and will. Sometimes the defense you face will dictate what style the attack might be.
“If we have to throw it every down to win, we will. If we have to run it every down, we will.”